Residential Open Floor Plan Design

Combining Rooms Requires Architectural Design Considerations

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith
Home with a modern open floor plan
Home with a modern open floor plan
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Open floor plans have been popular since around 1990. They’ve been the center of attention in many comprehensive remodeling projects in older homes. The objective is to join kitchen, dining room, and living room, (or some combination of the three) into a form of communal living space, or as it has come to be known, the “great room.”

Positive Open Floor Points

  • Rooms can share lighting such as pendant track lighting fixtures with others, reducing duplication of resources.
  • Improves traffic flow between rooms.
  • It’s a contemporary style so it protects your home equity. This is key if you ever plan to sell your home.
  • It enhances sociability; communication between spaces is made possible (and you can keep an eye on the kids while you’re cooking).

Negative Open Floor Points

  • It will potentially cost more to heat and cool. Homes with stand-alone rooms can utilize heating and air conditioning zone control.
  • Forget about sound control.
  • There is a higher initial cost going it because, hey, no load-bearing walls!

Designing Around the No-Zoning Issue

Ironically, the very thing that gives the open-floor scheme its appeal, openness, can also present its own problem. With no delineation between the kitchen and other areas the space loses character. One way to give the living room its own identity is taking advantage of the furniture. A long sofa is a great way to create a delineation line.

Further, adding an area rug under the sofa and a floor lamp or two beside the sofa will give more definition to the living zone. Standing lamps will also serve to give your living room its own identity.

Resist the Temptation to Incorporate too Many Styles

A certain degree of eclectic design is great, but don’t overdo it. Mismatched furniture and interior decor items will visually over-complicate your open floor space and make it look busy. Choose furniture and accessories that differ in color and material but are still in agreement with one another visually, such as different shades of the same color. Different, yet compatible.

A Focus on Lighting

One common mistake is not carefully planning lighting at the beginning of the project. This is the time to do it! Lighting is not only functional, it also sets the mood in the space. Think carefully regarding your furniture placement. Be sure that your lighting is positioned where it needs to be. As an example, if your sofa is located to be a a delineation line, as mentioned above, an electrical outlet may need to be installed in the floor.

Also, consider the type of lighting technology you want where. Soft, bright, daylight, cool? LED, halogen, or fluorescent lighting? The types of fixtures can vary in the different rooms. One fixture I have is an LED light fixture that features three adjustable wings. Each wing can be adjusted which makes it very versatile. In some situations it is the ideal solution.

Make Your Kitchen Conform

One mistake that is often made is styling the kitchen separately for the other areas. Your kitchen should be considered an integral part of the architecture of your home and the style of your living area. When you are choosing elements for your kitchen like colors, cabinet styles, countertop, and backsplash materials be sure that they conform to the design era of your home as a whole as well as the decor you add to the adjoining spaces. For example, something as simple as repeating the same “family” of colors and finishes in your kitchen and living spaces will infuse a sense of cohesion aligning the two areas.

Residential open floor plan design is not difficult when you keep these concepts in mind. With new construction and a solid concept, it’s easy to do everything right the first time. When remodeling a home that currently has the separate-room concept, things get a bit trickier because special consideration must be given to removing load-bearing walls. And when buying a home that’s already open floor, you’ll want to make it your own stylistically, so keep these principles in mind.

Further Reading


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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Valentine’s Day Outdoor Space Ideas

Romantic Gestures That Keep on Giving (Unlike Cut Flowers)

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith
Lilies blooming in the flower bed
Lilies blooming in the flower bed
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Valentine’s Day is a perfect example of a holiday that inspires us to redesign spaces inside and outside our homes. Designing an outdoor space for a Valentine’s Day gift or parties and celebrations can be a lasting surprise for someone that you care about pleasing. Many gardeners remind us that Valentine’s Day is the time to trim our rose bushes so that choice makes perfect sense.

Any climate-appropriate plants are a great way to improve the look of your yard, flower bed, garden, or outdoor living space. Here are a few plant, seating, and lighting ideas that can help you design the space of your dreams at this time of year when nature is just busting out. Just think of it as the opportunity to tackle that list of new year’s DIY projects!

Choosing the Perfect Flower

Almost every woman that I’ve ever met loves to get flowers on Valentine’s Day, and some would far rather receive something living that will bloom on more than just that one day. After all, why limit yourself to a wilting bouquet when you can have cut flowers on a regular basis?



Many of us don’t mind caring for the flower or floral arrangement minimally, either, especially during the mild spring and fall months. Annuals, such as the coriopsis below, are very hardy and come back year after year once established. Our bird friends help to distribute the thistle seeds so keep those bird feeders full.

Coriopsis flowers in full bloom
Coriopsis flowers in full bloom

It goes without saying that the perfect flower species should be designed to suit your climate, sunlight requirements, and of course, soil conditions. If you are unsure of this type of information, talk to someone in a garden center, nursery, or plant retailer for more details. If your community is lucky enough to have a Master Gardener group, they are very knowledgeable about local plants and are generally very free with their information. Most even conduct indigenous plant and tree sales in the spring.

One useful tip is to find out her favorite color, and keep in mind how much time and energy will need to be devoted to caring for the plant. Design your outdoor Valentine’s Day surprise with this basic information in mind, so that you can be sure that your significant other will appreciate what you have created.

Find accents and accessories for the space in the favorite color if you cannot find in-season plants that are blooming for this special occasion, such as lighting, flags, decorations, water features (ponds, fountains), and similar items designed for outdoor use. These all are animal-friendly and count towards your nature-conservation efforts.

Choosing Outdoor Seating Arrangements

If the space is large enough, why not consider adding seating to your outdoor space to create the romantic environment this day is known for inspiring.

A great garden bench is a wonderful idea, so that two can sit comfortably, but be sure that any seating arrangement you choose is intended for use outdoors, including fabric choices. Marketing claims are not always what they seem. If you have a homeowners association, check to ensure that your project falls under their (often unreasonable) guidelines. A garden bench with storage such as the one shown below, doubles as a spot to keep your gardening tools.

High-quality and functional furniture will ensure that your gift lasts much longer, and the durable and beautiful addition will add monetary and aesthetic value to your home. We can’t say enough about home equity, can we?

Your seating needs to strike a balance; make it comfortable without presenting health risks. Select fabrics that are specifically designed and treated for outdoor use, so that the fabric does not mildew or mold after the first hint of condensation or dew.



Choosing Exterior Lighting

You may or may not be spending a significant amount of time in your space outdoors after the sun sets, but adding exterior lighting changes that parameter and gives you that opportunity should you desire to sit, entertain, and relax after the sun has gone down. A simple lantern, LED spotlight, or a couple of Tiki torches for the space is ideal for most arrangements.

The right combination and choice of illumination will add that perfect touch of light for a romantic rendezvous, this Valentine’s Day and into the foreseeable future. Certain lighting resembles candlelight, which is the most popular lighting for romance, so you can’t go wrong with a hint of light that doesn’t cost you an abundance of time, energy, or money to purchase or install.

Finally, if you really want to go big when you consider Valentine’s Day outdoor space ideas, think about a relaxing backyard deck. Springtime and income tax returns are coming; hint, hint.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Introduction to Investing for Profit

Types of Stock and Bond Brokerages, Risk vs Return, and More

by Kelly R. Smith

Warren Buffett vs George Soros
Warren Buffett vs George Soros
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Standard Disclaimer—The author is not a financial advisor and this article is intended as educational material gained from 20 years of stock market investing. It is not intended as advice.

Many people still look at making financial investments for profit as a pastime that only the rich such as Warren Buffett engage in. And perhaps that was true in the past, but no longer. There has been a shift over time from pensions to self-directed retirement plans like the 401K.

These are highly managed plans; you look over a menu of funds and choose an assorted basket of funds, hopefully after doing much in-depth research. Some funds are primarily domestic, some are emerging markets, some are bonds—it goes on and on.

Most people are knowledgeable about one kind of investment–the home they pay a mortgage on and occasionally sweeten their real estate investment by remodeling or doing capital improvements like building out their basement.



Risk vs Return

As a general rule of thumb, funds and individual stock and bond returns range from high risk/high return to low risk/low return. Which is right for you? One of the most important factors to consider is how many years you are from retirement.

The most widely-accepted strategy is to begin with high risk positions when you are young with a long window of taking risks. You then re-balance your portfolio (collection of investments taken as a whole), each year so that you are taking less financial risk as you get closer to your golden years.

Choosing Between Buying Stocks or Bonds

Ideally, you want to own both; the ratio is up to you. Bonds tend to less volatile than stocks; they yield less return than stocks. But generally, when stocks are doing well, bonds perform less well and vice versa. When the market and economy burps, as it tends to do, you might want to make adjustments to your portfolio. Stocks like a bull market and bonds like a bear market.

Taking this approach has the tendency to smooth out the net worth of your portfolio, depending on whether we are experiencing a bull or a bear market. Forbes Advisor says, “According to market ‘astrology,’ a bear indicates the market is in decline while a bull signals the market is growing.”1 See the logic here? Always consider the fees that your broker charges per transaction.

As an example, when the conditions were spot-on I began acquiring Blackrock Municipal Income Fund and I did quite well with it. What makes municipal bonds so attractive? It is very stable, and of course, tax-free. There are always exceptions. Liquor, wine, and beer are called “sin stocks.” They almost always do well because as the saying goes, “people drink when the market is up because they’re happy and they drink when it’s down because they’re sad.”

You have probably voted on a “bond issue” in your community to build a new school or library. Upon approval, your city or county borrowed the money from a municipal bond fund and you and your neighbors paid it back over time with your taxes. It’s sort of like financing a vehicle.

How Much Time do You Want to Spend on Portfolio Management?

Investors come in different flavors. They vary from the timid and/or time-challenged to the type that wants to self-manage. If you’re the first type then you might stick with a relatively hands-off completely managed portfolio, like the 401K that your employer might offer.

If you are the hand-off type, keep in mind that you will be swapping convenience for potentially high management fees. Another strategy is to establish a personal account with a brokerage firm like JP Morgan Asset Management. As they say on their website, “We have a deeply resourced global network of investment professionals who take a research-driven approach analyzing every detail to uncover opportunities and risks to help our clients build stronger portfolios.”2

You will be paying for personal attention and remember that your broker is possibly more motivated by his commissions than with your profitability.

Exchange Traded Funds: What Are ETFs?

Forbes Advisor puts it this way, “Exchange traded funds (ETFs) are a type of security that combines the flexibility of stocks with the diversification of mutual funds. The exchange traded part of the name refers to how these securities are bought and sold on the market like stocks. The fund part refers to how an ETF provides easy access to diversification and exposure to a wide variety of asset classes.”3

The financial services company buys a basket of assets, stocks or bonds, currencies or commodity futures contracts, that make up the fund. Buying shares in an ETF doesn’t mean owning a portion of the underlying assets, as it would with shares of stock in a company. The financial services firm that runs the ETF owns the assets and manages them.



Invest at Your Pace with a DRIP Fund

I really like these. When I first started researching, I had rather shallow pockets meaning not much disposable income but I was eager to join in. DRIP funds (Dividend Reinvestment Plans) offer several advantages.

To begin with, they are very affordable. Brokerages operate like this: they charge a nominal fee such as $10 dollars per month for 2 trades. Unlike other types of brokerages, using this approach you can buy a percentage of a single stock. For example, if a stock is trading at $100.00/share, you can get in at half a share for a mere $50.

Another advantage is that in many cases you can sidestep a stock broker altogether and deal directly with the company you are buying into. The best way to identify participating companies is to look through a DRIP fund directory.

When your positions (individual companies you own) pay a dividend, the company (or DRIP brokerage) automatically uses it to purchase yet more percentage of shares and credits your account automatically. It is a frills-free brokerage so you must do your own research.

Play the Market like a Pro

Finally, there are on-line brokerages such as TD Ameritrade. You pay for individual trades, but again, you must do all your research. One good thing is that their on-line tools are extensive. You can drill way, way down when you are analyzing a potential position. You can trade options or you can choose from an extensive line-up of trading options including market, stop market, limit, stop limit, and more.

I hope you found something good to take away from this article on stocks and bonds, brokerages, and the risk vs return of investments.

You Might Also Enjoy:

Resources

  1. Kat Tretina, Forbes Advisor, What Are Bear And Bull Markets?, https://www.forbes.com/advisor/investing/bear-market-vs-bull-market/
  2. J.P. Morgan, The path to stronger portfolios, https://am.jpmorgan.com/us/en/asset-management/adv/about-us/
  3. Miranda Marquit, Forbes Advisor, Exchange Traded Funds: What Are ETFs?, https://www.forbes.com/advisor/investing/what-are-etfs/

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Home Office Build-Out Tips

by Kelly R. Smith

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A home office
A home office

Recent estimates report that 33% of Americans are self-employed in some capacity. Now, the report didn’t break it down into full-time or part-time details, but it means one thing for certain — lots of home offices! You might need one for the first time because of being locked down thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether you’re remodeling a bedroom into your office, or remodeling your current one, you can use these home office refurbishment tips.

Office Interior Lighting

All interior lighting is not the same. In the office, in particular, it falls into three distinct categories: general, task, and accent lighting. How much of each you use depends on your needs. General lighting is often implemented with overhead fluorescent fixtures. Most home offices just use task lighting.

Task lighting is used to focus on your work area to avoid eye strain. Good choices here are undercabinet fixtures, or track, monorail, or Y lighting systems with halogen or LED bulbs. Accent lighting usually illuminates artwork. This is taken care of with ceiling-mounted fixtures.

Buy Ergonomic Furniture

This is important for your comfort and long-term health. The two most critical pieces are an ergonomic office chair and computer desk. Adjustable standing desks are getting to be more popular. Before shopping, know what you need. Draw a detailed plan noting where things should be situated. Size is important; be sure everything will fit into your space.

Although it might be tempting to do so, I wouldn’t recommend placing the fax, copier, and printer where you can just reach over to make a quick paper grab. Why? Because you need to get out of your chair now and then to get the blood flowing! My Garmin 235 GPS watch actually lets me know when I’ve had too much butt-time.

Flooring – Choose Wisely

You’ve got many choices when it comes to flooring. Carpet is the best choice for sound control and it is forgiving; you’ll be spending a lot of time on your feet. The downside is that occasionally you’ll have to hire carpet cleaners or rent a machine at the store. If you’ve got a lot of carpet in your home, go ahead and buy a carpet cleaning machine. It will quickly pay for itself. Who knows how nasty those grocery store ones are.

Are you after a a more contemporary look? You might consider hardwood or laminate flooring. When it comes to sprucing up your home office, consider that you’ll be spending more time in there than you would a conventional office (Netflix). Plan accordingly.

Upgrade Your Office walls

Your office walls are important. You should choose a color that you like, of course, but it should also be a color that is soothing enough to allow you to focus on your work. Small office? Here are some paint illusions to make the space seem larger.

I hope these home office build-out tips have inspired you and given you some food for thought. Always check the latest IRS guidelines to maximize your deductions. It’s like getting a pay raise! Please participate in the poll on the right-hand sidebar of this article. Thanks!



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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

What is Covered by Standard Homeowners Insurance?

by Kelly R. Smith

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Home damage from Hurricane Harvey in Seabrook, Texas
Home damage from Hurricane Harvey in Seabrook, Texas

Homeowners insurance is essential for all homeowners. It doesn’t matter if you own outright or still hold a mortgage. Dictionary.com gives the origen of the word mortgage as, “Old French mortgage, equivalent to mort ‘dead’ (from Latin mortuus ) + gage ‘pledge.’” That’s about as morbid as it gets. It’s certainly not a witty phrase, is it? But I digress; what is covered by standard homeowners insurance?

Coverage for Your Personal Belongings

Your personal belongings include things such as sports equipment, clothing, furniture, appliances, ect. You get the idea. They are covered in the event that they are stolen or destroyed by insured disasters such as fire, hurricane, and others. Generally, the coverage is going to be 50% to 70% of the insurance you carry on the structure of your home, depending on the company that carries your policy.

The preferred way to determine if this is enough coverage is to conduct a home inventory. Take pictures, make entries in a database, etc. The more detailed, the better. Your belongings coverage includes items that you store away from your residence; this means that you have coverage anywhere in the world. There are some companies that limit the amount to 10% of the amount of insurance you have for your possessions. You may also have up coverage for unauthorized use of any credit cards.

Items on the higher end such as jewelry, furs, art, collectibles, and silverware are covered, but usually there is a monetary limit if they are stolen. There is a way to insure these items for their full value; buy a special personal property endorsement (or floater) and insure the items for their officially-appraised value.

Coverage for Your Home’s Structure

Your homeowners policy will pay to renovate or rebuild your home in the case that it is damaged or destroyed by incidences of fire, hurricane, hail, lightning, or other disasters that are enumerated in your policy. Most policies cover detached structures as well, such as your tool shed, garage, or a gazebo. In most cases, for about 10% of the amount of insurance you have on the structure of your home. A good rule of thumb is this–buy enough coverage to rebuild your home. Revise this yearly.

Liability protection

What does liability cover? It protects you from lawsuits citing bodily injury or property damage that you or family members cause to others. Additionally, it covers damage caused by your pets.

In many cases, limits begin at around $100,000. That being said, it’s prudent to palaver with your agent whether you should purchase a higher level of protection. You may have significant assets and therefore need more coverage than is available under your policy. If this is the case, consider purchasing an umbrella or excess liability policy, which provides broader coverage and higher liability limits.

Your policy also provides no-fault medical coverage. If one of your friends or a neighbor is injured in your home, he or she can submit the medical bills to your insurance company. So, expenses can be paid bypassing a liability claim being filed against you. Note that it doesn’t pay any of these bills for you or your family.

Additional living expenses (ALE)

This is for the the additional expenses of residing away from your home if you can’t live there because of the damage from a disaster that is insured. It covers restaurant meals, hotel tabs, and other miscellaneous costs that are over and above your normal living expenses. These are paid while your house is being restored. ALE is not open-ended; it has time and cost limits.

Other Circumstances

Your standard homeowners insurance policy will not pay for damage caused by an earthquake, flood, or routine wear and tear. These all require separate policies. Let me use myself as an example. During Hurricane Harvey, we flooded due to the city mismanaging drainage issues. We got about 2 feet of water inside the house.

Flood water rising in the street
Flood water rising in the street

Luckily, we have always carried flood insurance ever though the mortgage company did not require it since we are not in the flood plain (or zone if you will). But, as I tell my wife, “God doesn’t care about those maps.” So we ended up getting 100% on personal belongings and what the insurance adjuster estimated for structure. That only paid for material, not labor. That’s like getting 50 cents on the dollar. So, the majority of the reconstruction became a DIY project for me.

Neighbors without flood insurance just got the bare minimum from FEMA, and let me tell you, that ain’t much. Let that be a lesson–invest in appropriate insurance policies.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Our American Society is Now All-Black, 24-7, a Cultural Shift

by Kelly R. Smith

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Martin Luther King and Barack Obama
Martin Luther King and Barack Obama

As the COVID-19 pandemic rolls along so does another social phenomena — the machine that is the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and their partners, Antifa. It might seem like this is a recent development, but in fact, it has been fomenting for quite a while.

Long before white people were only acceptable if they were “woke,” and you might notice that’s woke not awoken or woken up (incorrect grammar is NOT cool), things were not as revisionist history portrays it today.

Which Party is Socially Progressive?

That’s a good question and one that has been decided. The Democrats are for the crazy stuff (does the New Green Deal strike a nerve?). It should. The spearhead are the so-called Democrat Socialists, people like Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib. Just prefixing democrat to socialist doesn’t change anything. Socialism is Socialism.

It’s true that people like Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Joe Biden are still wandering the halls but they are not leading anymore. They’re mouthpieces and fund-raisers.

The term progressive is misleading anyway. Returning to Marxist ideology and Saul Alinsky mob tactics is not making progress. Job growth, prosperity, and a renewed military presence under the leadership of President Trump is progress.

Enter Black Lives Matter, Colin Kaepernick, and Antifa

All the rioting, burning, and looting have very little to do with the death of George Floyd, although that was clearly a tragedy. The chaotic domestic terrorism is a means to push a social agenda. Part of that agenda, from blacklivesmatter.com, says, “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.”

Sound familiar? It should. Disrupting the family unit and transferring allegiance to the central state is what the Soviet, Chinese and North Korean communists did too. How did that work out?

Colin Kaepernick entered the game focused on shining a bad light on the police when he showed up to football practice wearing those cute cops-are-pigs socks. There is some credibility to the theory that this was the impetus to the defund-the-police movement. As a side note, although he riles against the ills of slavery in the past, he stills shills for Nike (paycheck!), who uses child labor in sweatshops to make their shoes. Oh, the hypocrisy is under-whelming.

Antifa is the cadre of domestic terrorists in all this. They are much more organized than many people think, as this article on the history of Antifa shows.

Being All-Black in a Capitalist System

I liken this to curbside grocery pick-up, at least where I live. Once one grocery store chain started doing it, the rest scrambled to get in the game. It’s understandably about market share. And, this was before the COVID-19 pandemic with its social-distancing woes. As one of the order-fillers at Kroger told me, “It’s a blessing for moms with 2 screaming kids. Why would they come in?”

Commercial companies across the board are imitating this model with their pandering to black interests and customers as well as social warriors of all stripes. Just the other day, Discover card announced that they are gifting $5,000,000 to black-owned restaurants, saying, “In an effort to support the restaurant industry as it rebounds from the impact of COVID-19, Discover announced today that it will be giving $5 million to Black-owned restaurants.”

Wait — did I read that right? How is this social justice? What about Mexican restaurants? Chinese? White-owned diners? How about Thai and sushi shops? And Lord help me, pizza shops. I assumed all businesses were on the COVID-19 pandemic chopping block. No sir, only blacks qualify; this is pandering at its lowest.

If you’ve got Discover plastic in your wallet, you’re the patsy here. That $5 million is coming out of your 25% monthly high interest rates, not the CEO’s annual bonus. It doesn’t matter where you stand on non-blacks losing their livelihood while only blacks get the lifeboats. This is life as we know it in the new all-black, 24-7, cultural mode.



References:


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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Beat the Heat this Summer and Cold this Winter with Radiant Barrier

by Kelly R. Smith

Radiant barrier staple-up foil and loose fill insulation
Radiant barrier staple-up foil and loose fill insulation
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This article was updated on 12/14/20.

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The cost to air-condition you home in the summer and heat your home in the winter is absolutely insane, even if you have your HVAC sized perfectly. But what can you do? For one thing, you can install a spray-on and/or aluminum foil radiant barrier.

These are the two major distinct heat-reduction methods on the market today. And they really work. NASA uses it, as do other commercial and residential properties. And, although it is touted for summer savings, it works in the winter as well. Think of a thermos bottle. It doesn’t care if the contents are hot or cold; it just does a splendid job of insulating.

Which is Best: Spray or Foil?

This is really up to you; it really depends on your situation. But, and this is a huge but, spray-on is more versatile. It’s simply a powder mixed with paint so you can use any color latex paint you want and roll it or spray it on your walls, interior or exterior but white is recommended.

When I sprayed my attic, I used the bottom inch or two in the bucket that my Graco airless paint sprayer didn’t pick up to roll on my garage walls. And what a difference that has made! The garage is my woodworking shop and it is now much more comfortable.

How Much does Radiant Barrier Cost?

Uhmm, that’s a good question. There is no denying it; it can be expensive. When I did my home (about 12 years ago) it was $0.50 USD per square foot for foil and about $40.00 USD per gallon for the pre-mixed spray-on product. I did the labor myself. You think that’s bad? Check out your last electricity bill. Multiply it by 12. It’s all relative in the grand scheme of things.

How Does this Insulation Technology Work?

The spray-on method generally combines microscopic porcelain beads with aluminum flakes which are mixed into a latex paint base to reflect the heat. The foil is typically an aluminum product with tiny perforations to allow the material to breathe. The 2-ply versions are recommended because that provides a “dead” area that insulates much like fiberglass batt insulation does.

Common Questions About Radiant Barriers

Is it too expensive? No! This is one of the cheapest things you can do to lower the burden on your central air conditioner over the long term. Of course the initial cost may seem steep, but after it pays for itself you keep saving. Smart investment. I installed mine over ten years ago and our electric bill has been about 35% lower since then. You can’t control the rates but you can control consumption.

Is it hard to install? No! If you go with the foil, you basically need a tape measure, a utility knife, and a stapler. If you use the spray you will need to buy or rent a paint sprayer with the proper size spray tip. The only hard part is getting in tight spots. So, as I found out, patience is required, especially if you don’t have a helper available.

Are there any precautions? Yes. If you use spray-on, you must use a high quality respirator (not a COVID-19 type dust mask) when spraying or boxing the paint and powder, as well as when you spray. You don’t want to inhale any of that.

When is the best time to install it? Generally speaking, I recommend spring or fall. Attics get too hot in the summer months, at least here in South Texas. For example, I installed ours in March and it was already hot. Winter is good but I prefer not to do this kind of work with work gloves.

Concerns about Cell Phone Reception

Radiant barrier foil and spray for double-effectiveness
Radiant barrier foil and spray for double-effectiveness

Well, this is everybody’s favorite question in our hooked-up and connected world. This question is still way out there as far as the responses go. From my spray radiant barrier experience, I can say that there was little or no change.

But, as far as the foil staple-up barrier is concerned (which I did not do in my home), I’ve found that the yes/no response from others is about equal. Logic dictates that it would make a difference from cell interception arriving vertically, but horizontally? Who knows? In any event, I know people that use cell phone signal boosters with great results.

When I added the foil to the attic floor over the rafters and the fiberglass batt insulation I did notice some cell reception degradation. But then I upgraded my cable modem/WiFi and the signal was perhaps better than it ever was.

So is radiant barrier insulation right for your home? From my experience I would say yes, absolutely. It lowers utility bills in the fiercest summer heat and the most shivering of winter weather. It will pay for itself over time if you are there for the long term and if you put your home on the market it’s a great selling point. Win-win.



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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

How to Improve Your Credit Score

A range of credit cards
A range of credit cards


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One of the best things you can do to to improve your odds of purchasing big-ticket items such as cars and a home is to improve your credit score. It is also essential to be in good standing when applying for loans, mortgages, credit cards, and even some jobs. A minimum target is a score of at least 720, while 850 is the highest you can go.

Credit Bureaus Determine Your Fate

Three credit bureaus (the Big Three, as they say) tabulate Americans’ credit scores: Equifax, Experion, and Transunion. You might assume that these are government agencies, but you would be wrong. They’re independent companies in the business of calculating and reporting your score. The methods they employ to come up with your score and how to improve it are closely guarded secrets.

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A Strategy to Improve Your Credit Score

Raising your credit score does not happen overnight; you have to work at it. How to go about it? There are various thoughts on the matter but Phil Tirone, author of the book 7 Steps to a 720 Credit Score, hits on 3 key points that everybody can agree on. Don’t fall for online scams that promise to magically raise your score. Rely instead on these principles.

  1. “Aim to have three credit cards—not just one or two—but never more than three. If you have more than that, pay them off and cancel them as soon as you can.”
  2. “Never use more than 30 percent of your credit limit. In other words, if you have a $10,000 credit limit, do not borrow more than $3,000.” To do so would be unwise in any event.
  3. “Have one paid revolving account—the kind you can maintain at a furniture store. Purchase something like a sofa and then pay it off. Use it every so often, and be sure to pay it off every time.”

One caveat here that he didn’t mention is to never be late on a payment. That will poison your attempt to raise your credit score. Automatic withdrawals are perfect for this. Set and forget.

A Higher Credit Score will Save You Money

For example, if an average consumer owns one credit card, one car loan and a house mortgage of $150,000 and raises his credit score by 50 points or so, he could save as much as $700 a month. Now why would that be? Because that makes him less of a risk. He can secure better terms and interest on a mortgage and more favorable car financing.

Consider what a benefit that $700/month is. The consequences are far-reaching. Typically Congress favors American taxpayers with about $700 every few years in the form of a tax rebate, and the economy gets a good bump. Imagine if every american were saving $700 a month and could use that to recharge the economy!

So now you know how to improve your credit score. The question is, “When?” The answer of course is, “Now!” 


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Online Scams to Watch Out For

As Technology Changes, so Do the Methods of Fleecing the Unsuspecting and Gullible

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

Beware of internet scam and spam
Beware of internet scam and spam
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Ads we feature have been independently selected and reviewed. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn a commission, which helps support the site. Thank you for your support.

Article updated 07/27/21.

Scamming unsuspecting rubes is nothing new; it has been around as long as the unscrupulous among us began to figure out how to separate the gullible from their cash. Snake oil anyone? Step right up. Methods vary but the digital age has really opened up the floodgates for these charlatans. Take Al Gore for example. He’s gotten rich on donations and preaching about climate change and global warming while justifying his lifestyle with “carbon credits.” Forget the iconic “Nigerian prince and Middle East widow;” things have gotten more sophisticated. Here are a few online scams to watch out for.

Trump Bonus Checks, Freedom Checks, and the 501(k)

This one has been making the rounds for some time now. There are a slew of variations but what it boils down to is that money is out there for the average American to claim (But hurry! There’s a deadline!) Yeah right, and every time that deadline expires it’s pushed forward. Curious, yes?

Some of them claim that large corporations are just falling over in their eagerness to cut huge checks. Others actually seem to claim that President Trump actually signed legislation to hand out money like candy (But hurry! There’s a deadline!). These are called Trump Bonus Checks. They never specifically claim that the Donald had anything to do with it but the slippery bums plant the seed of reality by taking advantage of a little thing called greed. I have yet to see anyone attributing a bonus check scam to Joe Biden.

The reality? These shysters are selling expensive stock-pick newsletters. Couldn’t cut it as legitimate brokers, I suppose.

Have You Seen Ads About the 501(k)?

Regarding one that I just saw not so very long ago, the hook read, “Trump’s New Law Could Mean Big Changes for Retirees.” Did President Trump change something in his tax reduction? No! He simply did not reference or eliminate certain already existing tax loopholes. But these “advisors,” ahem, are clever with words. And targeting retirees online? Sad.

Unlike the book above, in reality, this company wants to send you another kind of book — one that tells you how to invest in their “secret plan,” of which they say, “Because government heavily restricts the advertising for this “account,” most people aren’t aware of just how great it is.”

Heavily restricted? But they have their ads plastered all over the internet? This is so odoriferous; it stinks to high heaven of chicanery.

The “Consumer Bonus” Hidden in Section 11042

Shhh, don’t tell anyone but this bonus has been “hidden”in the Trump tax reform bill. The online video tripe put out by the Oxford Club (now, doesn’t that name just radiate confidence?) claims the average citizen can get a bonus of cash of up to $3,700 for purchases. In their words, anything from a pair of shoes to a yacht. And the best part is that the IRS doesn’t even care if you save receipts. Yowsa!

But hold your horses. Does this pass the smell test, I ask? As Intuit Turbotax puts it, “This is bogus, a play on words, and nothing of substance. If you read the language of that section, that is indeed the section that limits the SALT deduction, a provision that was subject to much political debate. Before enactment of HR 1, you could fully deduct your paid state and local income taxes. This provision limits that amount for tax years after 2017 and before 2026 to $10,000.”

“So the claim is “legit” in the sense that if you are at the top marginal tax rate and you itemize your deductions and you paid $10,000 or more in state or local taxes, your tax bill will be $3,700 lower in 2018 than it would be without 26 USC 164 (which Section 11042 modifies).”

“However, it is entirely bogus because that section of the 2017 tax bill does not provide any new benefit at all, like the copy explicitly states (it is in fact limiting an existing benefit) and because that provision does not even apply to tax year 2017 anyway. If you were already benefiting from “this section” you will continue to benefit (albeit to a lesser extent). If you were not already benefiting, you will continue to not benefit.”

OK, that was a bit long-winded but it’s the gospel according to Turbotax and if anyone knows the code, it’s them. So what the heck is up with that illustrious organization the Oxford Club? Same old, same old bait and switch show. They want you to subscribe to The Oxford Communiqué. They are basically selling you their stock tips. But really, if they had to stitch together that whole bogus tale of the Shhhh, Hidden Consumer Bonus, do you really trust their tips?

Just Sign the Petition…

This one is usually has a political flavor. Sometimes it comes from a bona fide politician. More than any other, I remember getting hammered with emails and texts from Obama operatives. Sometimes it comes from a third party, maybe a legitimate fundraiser, maybe not. In any event, here is the way it works. The email concerns an alarmist political issue.

“Dear fellow patriot, we desperately need your support. Please click to sign the petition which we will deliver to X, Y, or Z. Clicking will indeed take you to a petition for you to “sign.” How can typing your name hold water on a petition? Next, you are taken to a page asking for a monetary contribution.

Why does it work? People that are politically aware can have strong emotional feelings about their side on most issues, whether it is for the Republicans or the Democrats. It is a classic emotion-play. But in the case of a third party solicitation, what percentage actually goes to the cause and how much to “operating expenses?” If you really want to contribute, go right to the party. It’s not difficult and you might even get some merch as a thank you.

This is another one that is designed to tug on your heartstrings. Booooooing! You will usually be shown a sad photo of a child, people, etc. in a horrible situation. Next, they go to work exaggerating the back story about these people. After the story, they then ask that you donate some money to this noble cause.



Unfortunately even the supposedly reliable charities don’t always make the grade. Several years ago the Red Cross got a slew of bad press for the incredible expenses they went through while doing some commercial remodeling projects on their headquarters.

Rather than just handing over your cash on the spot, ask to see in writing the way and what percentage of funds actually get distributed. If they are legit they will be glad to oblige. If they hesitate or hem ‘n haw, give them the boot.

Search for Your Name

This money-grabber comes cloaked in a number of come-ons. It might say “Scary what this site knows bout Americans. Enter any name,” “Have you Googled Yourself?,” or something similar. Clicking will take you to a page that allows you to enter a name, state, etc. It will yield some basic facts but then wants to charge your credit card to give you the real scoop. What they don’t tell you is that all this info is all in the public records.



All you are really paying for is for someone (actually something, an algorithm) to do the leg work for you. If you don’t mind paying for that, OK. But keep in mind that this is a sneaky come-on and as long as they have aggregated your data they can easily use it themselves or sell it to others as a basis for identity theft.

Bottom line? Don’t trust anyone; approach each situation as a business transaction. Do not open any email attachments that you do not trust. Keep your emotions in check. Sign up for the Kim Komando newsletter. She is always on top of new scams.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Trump Bonus Checks & More Scams

Freedom Checks, Biden Senior Benefits, the Foreign Lottery Scam, the 501(k), and More

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith; © 2021

Get rich fast schemes
Get rich fast schemes
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This article was updated on 09/18/21.

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Get rich fast schemes have been around for a long, long time. Why? Because everybody wants something for nothing (Socialism in America is a hot topic right now), or at least by expending the least effort possible. People want to hear what they want to hear. If not, we wouldn’t be such a ripe crop for fake news. If it sounds too good to be true…

The fact is that the digital age has ushered in a whole new generation of shady characters determined to separate us from our money. It is just a lot easier to reach a lot more suckers. As P. T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Let’s take a look at a few email and other scams that are taking up space in our email accounts.

Trump Bonus Checks

I’ve been getting this one for a while now. As with most of these messages, you have to watch a real snoozer of a long, long video while the narrator skirts around the meat of the matter until the very end.

Despite the name, he stops just short of claiming that President Trump actually legislated or recommended this “bonus” although he certainly implies it.

President Donald Trump thumbs up
President Donald Trump thumbs up

Of course, there is an often-repeated call to action (CTA) to create a sense of urgency by telling you that you need to get yourself on the list by May 14. Or what? Some other poor slob will get my money? OK, got it. After all, there is a limit of exactly $15 trillion of cold, hard cash available!

The bottom line? He wants to sell you $502 worth of information for a low, low price of $49. Basically he is going to sell you investment tips. What does that have to do with Trump? Nothing; he’s just riding on the Donald’s coattails.

Now, just for the sake of having some fun, how long do you think it will take for this particular scam to morph into Biden Bonus Checks? Smart money says it will not be overly long.

Biden Senior Benefits Program

Update 09/18/21: I was right as usual. Today I was watching YouTube and lo and behold, here’s an ad for a Biden Senior Benefits program. Well, methinks, if this is a thing, why is it that the only one hawking it is seniorbenefitsworth.com? I’m amazed that I haven’t seen Public Service Announcements (PSAs), commercials, or government propaganda about this. Curious, I went to the site and found:

——-Snip——

Seniors May Qualify For As Much As $97,246 In Benefits

Answer These 7 Questions To See How Much You Could Receive:

More resources and Relief Programs are only available through E-Mail – Sign-Up now to access: (here’s where you fill in all your personal information.)

—— Snip ——

The site goes on to say:

—— Snip ——

Seniors are able to get hundreds of thousands of dollar in benefits that they typically never would work.

In 2021, new policies have been put in place to help those seniors in need.

If you meet 2 of these requirements, you will be eligible for significant benefits.

  • Be an American resident or citizen
  • Live in a qualified zipcode
  • Be a homeowner
  • Have significant debts and/or health issues that need resolution immediately
  • Currently paying too much for electricity and home repairs

—— Snip ——

Where’s the scam tip-off? First off, “More resources and Relief Programs are only available through E-Mail – Sign-Up” Aha, that’s why this is the only place you can find out about the benefits you deserve. This info is so tight-to-the-chest that even the Biden’s government can’t tell you ― only seniorbenefitsworth.com has been entrusted to disseminate this information.

Next, peruse the come-on sentence, “Seniors are able to get hundreds of thousands of dollar (Big-Time typo, where’s the plural?) in benefits that they typically never would work. (what the heck does this phrase even mean, ‘benefits that they typically never would work?’)” This page was clearly posted by the same guy that has been running the Nigerian Prince scam!

I can only say shame on YouTube for selling ad space to this obvious scam artist. Where’s the oversight and vetting?

Freedom Checks

Freedom Checks have been around for at least a few years now, or at least that is when they started showing up in my email. Lately, they have also been running ads on the radio. To finance that they must be finding some gullible takers. The radio spots are mercifully shorter than the video that accompanies the email.

I had to sit through the agony of the entire thing (for the sake of research for this post; see, I took a bullet for you), before the narrator got down to brass tacks about what it is really all about. Bottom line? The same basic Trump Bonus model although the investments seemed to focus more narrowly on the mining industry.

This is another pitch to sell $49 newsletters. The question I had to ask myself is, “If this guy some investment genius, why is he spending time with newsletters? How does he have the time or inclination?”

Phishing Scammers Posing as YouTube

Yes, it was just a matter of time, wasn’t it? This one wants all your sensitive YouTube information. Sometimes they can make it look quite legit. This video explains it:

The 501(k)

Bankonyourself.com explains that the 501(k) plan is “a safe savings and wealth-building strategy based on a specific type of high cash value dividend-paying whole life insurance.” Now while this is true, these scammers are not interested in guiding your financial market investment, they just want your money.

An organization called the Palm Beach Research Group markets it under the guise that it is a tax shelter for the rich. The implication here is that if it is good enough for the likes for the very rich it ought to be good enough for a poor Joe Shmoe like me. After all, this is America, right?

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Although the 501(k) is a legitimate investment vehicle and it can be quite lucrative, the approach taken b y the Palm Beach Group is to print and sell newsletters. These will set you back from $199 for the basic publication to $4,500 for the “Palm Beach Confidential.” Pssst, this is between you and me, OK?

The Foreign Lottery Scam

This foreign lottery scam is one of the most often received email scams. You receive what appears to be an official email from a foreign lottery company. The subject line offers a congratulatory announcement (yea, you), and might include the supposed amount of money you’ve “won.” Tip-offs:

  • The sender is a person, NOT a lottery company.
  • Your name is not listed in the “to” field of the email header.
  • The lottery doesn’t even exist. Do a search.
  • It asks for sensitive personal information.

The bottom line? Most of us would do better to steer clear of these schemes and consult with a professional investment adviser face-to-face or sign up with a broker like Ameritrade. Don’t be a rube. There is no get-rich-quick in life no matter what a bunch of newsletter quacks say. Please take a moment to participate in the poll on the right-hand sidebar of this page. I’m conducting a study and your response is important.



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About the author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.